Advice for prospective Tech Artist - AnimSchool vs. Think Tank? Environment Art vs. Rigging?

Hey all! As title suggests, 28 y/o Tech PM based in LA looking to become a 3D Tech Artist (TA) in gaming (also open to AR/VR and feature films). The role felt like a great fit given the following:

  1. Good pay, stability(?), WLB(?), skills transferability, demand(?)
  2. Visual + technical in entertainment space
  3. Supporting fellow artists - I love helping others

Tools, workflows, pipelines, rigging, and effects domains sounded most interesting (source here), though I’m naturally unsure about what to focus on yet.

That said, your advice would mean the world for the following questions, as I wallow in solidifying immediate next steps:

  1. Accuracy of points above & general advice: would love to get/have realistic expectations (before) further embarking down this path
  2. "Easier" time breaking into the games industry: Environment Art (EA) vs. Rigging? EA TA(?) > Rigging TA personally (for now), but can absolutely compromise earlier and change paths later (which I hear is easier once you’re in, but unsure)
  3. Optimal bootcamp to take: AnimSchool vs. Think Tank? Heard amazing things about both, which equally satisfy budget (~$15k), time (<=1.5 years), and quality (industry mentors) constraints. For differences, AnimSchool (US) offers both EA and Rigging programs, while Think Tank (Canada) seems to focus on the former.
  4. Paths not yet considered: as it suggests, would love to find out more optimal ways in becoming a TA. I have very minimal exposure to the industry currently, so lots of uncertainties and unknowns abound

I’m under the assumption that the artist experience, especially from a bootcamp backed by industry mentors, generally makes for a better TA. I understand tons of free courses exist out there, but don’t mind the time/cash sink if bootcamp is in fact recommended.

Currently, I’m taking portions of a free Software Engineering bootcamp offered by a past employer to strengthen knowledge of Python. Will certainly pick up c++, c#, MEL, etc. as needed moving forward. Thank you again for reading, and more importantly offering your invaluable insights!

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I’m in a similar boat so I can only speak from beginner to beginner, however, I think I can at least assist with some of the questions you have, so I’ll answer the ones I feel like I know enough about.

For context, I currently work in Film as a Junior Houdini Technical Director (basically a TA but in Film) and am looking to transfer into an Environment Artist/Procedural Tech Artist role. From my understanding, they are incredibly similar and very transferable so I’ll give information based on the research I’ve done and some people who work in the industry that I’ve spoken to (in games and in film).

Accuracy of points above & general advice

  1. Good pay, stability(?), WLB(?), skills transferability, demand(?)
  • Demand and stability are two things I’ve seen mentioned often, the biggest asset you have as a TA (and TD) that most people don’t, is being able to merge the technical and artistic side and be able to communicate with both parties in a language they can speak. That means that often studios are willing to take on people even if they are underskilled. I recommend that whole video, goes over TA basics. (also check out her blog she has a lot of really good articles that I’ve found useful.)

  • WLB really depends on the studio, that’s going to happen with any role really. It also heavily depends on what you are willing to put up with, if you don’t set those boundaries you may find they aren’t respected.

  • Pay I can’t speak on in games, but based on conversations I’ve had as a Junior in Film with my colleagues, chances are the first job you’re going to have to take a lower salary and your 3rd/4th job is where you’re making a really good salary. It’s not uncommon to, for example, get a job at 60k, and after only a year of experience (2 years is the recommended amount of time you want to spend at a studio when talking to coworkers), the next job you get 80k. But really depends on what you define as good pay and where you’re going to live.

  1. Supporting fellow artists - I love helping others
  • Yep, you’ll be doing a lot of that, to the point that sometimes you feel like a bit of an unsung hero. If you’re going into it for praise you may be a bit disappointed. I’m not saying that to dissuade you from doing it, I think being in this role is awesome and I really do enjoy being able to make tools and merge tech and art. But I went into it thinking “Oh man people are gonna be so happy about the changes I’m doing” and using that as motivation for my work, but then when I do show them to people they just focus on what else I can fix or how what I did might break their current workflow.

    If you’re doing your job right, people are not going to notice what you’re doing so I think it’s important to do it for what you think is interesting. So far in Film I haven’t done that and a lot of what I do isn’t really what I’m interested in hence why I’m looking to transfer to Games.

I see threads like this often for all sorts of topics where they are really wavering over delving time into a career or role or hobby or whatever. I think a lot of us these days want the most efficient route into what we want to do, and it’s even harder because there are just so many resources online that it can be hard to find the “good ones”. I used to really worry about that sort of thing myself and write huge threads in communities and struggle to get responses, trying to wrap my head around all the things I needed to learn and trying to pick what I wanna specialize in, and just getting frustrated and confused.

For me, I didn’t really decide until I started learning 3D artist basics. Learn what it’s like to be an artist of whatever you find interesting, being a Tech Artist (or Technical Director in my case) can be tough and requires a LOT of learning (even when you’ve been doing it for 10 years, my colleagues learn new stuff all the time) so it’s really important that you pick something you find really interesting and you’re passionate about.

"Easier" time breaking into the games industry

I feel passionate about this because I used to think this way, fuck whatever is “easy”.

If you just want an easy good good-paying job, with all the things you listed above. Games isn’t where you want to be, you can go get a better-paying job with better benefits at a Software engineering company. By being a TA you’re paying the creative tax and will get lower pay, and worse benefits than software companies in that region.

Most people do not get into the industry as Tech Artists, most start out as artists so if you’re going to skip a step then you have more work on your end to get there. Pick whatever you actually really like, it might take you 2 years to learn all of it and actually get a job but you’re investing in a career not just another job (I’d hope)

I’m under the assumption that the artist experience. generally makes for a better TA.

I’d argue that artist experience doesn’t just make for a better TA but I’d say that it’s a pre-requisite. There’s a reason that most technical artists start out as 3D artists, it’s because you can’t help someone efficiently if you don’t understand their perspective and what it is that they’re trying to do, to begin with. How can you optimize and automate things you don’t even know how to do yourself?

In my opinion, It’s actually a lot easier to learn that than tech art because there are so many more Artists that exist out there and lots of communities and resources online on how to become an artist. I think the other issue is that TAs look incredibly different from one studio to another. I think that a big reason why there’s no “defined” path to becoming a tech artist, is that most people didn’t start out in the industry wanting to be a tech artist and every studio is insanely different.

Optimal bootcamp to take

If you can afford it cool, go for it, and utilise the networking that it’ll give you. Like you said, once you’re in the industry it’s a lot easier to float around. However, chances are you’re still going to need to do a lot of work outside of school on top of that. If you’re someone who NEEDS the structure of school, I think you may have a hard time as a TA because a lot of the job is figuring things out on your own, and in my experience structure is not something I have a lot of in my day to day. I also think that self-study is good training because that’s a huge part of being on the job, you’ll be given tasks and projects for things you’ve never touched before, and if you’re good, you’ll go yup, gotcha. and learn what you need to learn to get it done.

General Advice

If I were you this is what I would do

  1. Figure out what exactly you wanna specialize in, if Environment art piques your interest, look into the basics of that, if you really like Rigging then see what it’s like to be a Rigger.
  2. Once you’ve picked something, learn how to be that artist, learn all the tools and workflows that they use, and see what it’s like, you don’t have to be as good as them, you just need to understand what they do.
  3. From there, try to see if you can actually talk to TA’s that work in the field you’re interested in. They’ll have the most perspective on what the fundamentals are for you to focus on.
  4. Create some projects, I’m currently working on a 3D game asset project so I can learn the differences between how Games create Assets and Film.

Once you’ve done that, I think it’ll refine things for you, and you’ll have a clearer picture on what it is you really need to do.

Again all in my opinion and based on my personal experience but I hope it was helpful!

This is so helpful, thank you very much. Not just on the professional but also on the personal front as well. Your insights and suggestions helped be both step back and reconfirm what it is that I’m trying to do. Definitely need to treat this more as a long term journey, given it necessitates high commitment and hard work (which I knew before, but understand more so now). Thank you for the redirection!

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If you do go down the environment art side of things feel free to shoot me a message, happy to share the courses that I’ve found useful :slight_smile:

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Definitely, will DM you shortly. Thank you again for helping out like this!